Twilight gave a start; what in the name of Equestria could have brought Queen Celestia so abruptly, and without a letter of forewarning at that? And − this gave pause the likes of which she did not feel at any point since she’d acquired her cutie mark − the queen regnant did not bear herself with her typical serenity, only the second time that Twilight had seen Queen Celestia act outside of her normal personality perimeters.
“Queen Celestia!” Twilight cried, galloping up to the glowing-white Alicorn and bowing down to her knees.
“Twilight, please don’t do that, we don’t have time for pleasantries,” said Queen Celestia, in far more agitated a voice than anypony present could ever recall hearing. Behind the Queen, Twilight could make out the Doo family, matriarch Ditzy bringing a hoof to a mouth shaped comically like a perfect ‘O’, little Dinky tilting an eyebrow quizzically as adopted elder sister Amethyst Star scratched her chin bemusedly.
“But, Your Majesty,” Twilight insisted, feeling very uncertain about the Queen’s suddenly far greater lack of interest in protocol, “what could possibly be more important than routine and order?”
“Twilight Sparkle,” answered Celestia in a profoundly more stern tone, her pale-blue eyebrows furrowing, “I will not say it again. This is a matter of quintessential urgency that requires you and your friends to come with me to Canterlot posthaste! Is that enough incentive, or should I make matters plainer?”
Twilight stood bolt upright and hesitantly saluted the Queen.
“Y-yes, Queen Celestia! Shall I… pair up my friends with myself and you for the ease of winking out? Rarity… really doesn’t think she has the skill to wink.”
“Well, not insofar as the magical terminology for teleportation,” interjected Rarity, waving a cloven hoof nonchalantly; “it seems a rather dreadfully complex procedure.”
Queen Celestia’s alicorn glowed as the Sun.
“Very well, then. Twilight, you shall wink Spike, Rarity − “ (Spike let out a resonating “Yes!” which Celestia allowed a small smile at.) “ − and your good friend Applejack to my throne room. I myself shall wink alongside Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, and Pinkie Pie.”
“Directly into your throne room, Your Majesty?” asked Twilight as Spike clung to her barrel, Applejack and Rarity at either side wrapping a hoof around either foreleg. “Isn’t that rather untoward? Rude, even?”
“Given the present circumstances,” Queen Celestia’s eyes darkened, Pinkie leaping weightlessly atop her back as Rainbow and Fluttershy respectively grabbed a foreleg and a hind leg of the Queen (the cerulean Pegasus taking great care to not touch Celestia with any part covered in cotton-candy), “a breach in such matters is the smallest of our concerns.”
And the Queen counted off with an extended hoof − one, two, three − and on the fourth count, she and her protegee vanished in twin flashes of pink and yellow light.
“Well, this day suddenly got boring,” grumbled Scootaloo.
“Ah wouldn’ say that,” said Apple Bloom, looking up at the frizzy pink clumps drifting down from the sky.
“Oooh! Cotton candy clouds!” squeaked Sweetie Belle, her alicorn emitting pale-green sparks of joy.
Upon touching down in the throne room, Rarity immediately detached herself from Twilight and bolted to the nearest stained-glass window. As it always did whenever winking out, her mane lost any sense of cohesion and became a perfect sphere of frizziness.
“Why? Why does this always happen to me?” she shouted, her voice ringing up and down the audience chamber.
“Ah reckon we got bigger carrots ta fry than yer mane-do, Rare,” Applejack groused, earning a withering look from the alabaster Unicorn.
Twilight faced Queen Celestia as her three friends disengaged from the towering Alicorn, “Queen Celestia, is this about those peculiar clouds back in Ponyville? Is this not an isolated incident? Is it some creature from out of Tartarus? Has Cerberus abandoned his post? Has―?”
But Queen Celestia raised a greaved foreleg in a gesture for silence.
“Sister, bring the Elements, quickly!” Celestia called towards the dais at the end of the throne room. At the Queen of the Day’s calling, Selena the Queen of the Night approached with a glide. Stately and regal, though less beautiful than her elder sister, the Queen of the Night leveled a stern gaze upon the seven attendants of Celestia. A gilded chest marked with six gemstones, each one of the primary colors of the rainbow, was held in her royal-blue dwimmer shimmer. At her side, clad in slender golden armor, was the Royal Guard named Paper Mache, Queen Celestia’s prospective personal bodyguard.
“Queen Selena, it is a pleasure to see you again.”
‘Time is of the essence, Twilight Sparkle,’ answered Queen Selena shortly. ‘Sister, the locks!’
“Yes, little sister,” replied Queen Celestia, her sunny dwimmer shimmer seeming all the brighter next to Selena’s. A pair of locks, each marked with Sun and Moon, resonated with the magical signature of each Queen, unlocking themselves.
“Umm, Queen Celestia?” Twilight asked nervously. “What exactly do we need the Elements for…?”
“Trust me, Twilight Sparkle,” Celestia responded without looking at her pupil, “you will know what to use these on when you see… him.”
Initially, Twilight was baffled as to why her mentor had stopped talking, and had not got much further than to think Him? before her unspoken query was answered.
“What? What is it, Your Majesty?” asked Paper Mache, one of her eyebrows quirked inquisitively.
Queens Celestia and Selena used their dwimmer shimmers to tilt the unlocked and opened chest for Twilight and her company to see. The interior, lined with purple velvet, was empty.
“The Elements are gone,” Celestia murmured.
Selena turned worrisome eyes upon the Queen of Day, ‘Elder sister, dost thou believe that He hath made off with them?’
Queen Celestia bowed her head, resting a cloven forehoof on her tall golden crown. “That may be our only answer. It wouldn’t make sense for anyone to pilfer them, but He is beyond sense.”
“Umm, Queen Celestia…” asked Fluttershy. “Umm, can I ask… Is your crown too heavy? I mean, umm, it looks like you’re having trouble with it.”
Celestia’s eyes met Fluttershy’s.
“Heavy is the head that wears the crown, my little pony.”
“Well, if it’s so heavy, then just take it off,” called Rainbow Dash, flying up to Celestia’s head and setting her hooves to the golden crown.
“NO!” screamed Celestia, eyes wide, her alicorn flashing as bright as the Sun itself, sending Rainbow Dash reeling. Fluttershy flapped up in alarm, catching her ex-fiancée in her forelegs. Twilight and the remainder of her friends looked back and forth between the Pegasi and Queen Celestia. If the Queen looked unsettled before, then she now looked to be verily unhinged. Her face was broken out in a sweat unbecoming of such stately and lovely royalty, her pupils dilated almost to pinpricks, breathing raggedly as she adjusted her crown to ensure that it remained steadily perched.
“Cool down, Queen C,” the cerulean Pegasus quipped. “I was just trying to help.”
“Perhaps,” replied Celestia slowly, her breathing returning to normal, “but this crown… I cannot remove it. Ever. It is a part of my contract with the ponies of Equestria, that He shall never have Equestria.”
“Who’s this ‘He’ you guys keep talking about?” Rainbow Dash asked.
“Yeah, what’s up with that?” Spike added.
Celestia and Selena made eye contact, purple to cyan, round pupils to oval pupils. Once more Twilight felt as though the Alicorn sisters were sharing a conversation without speaking. Was it their sisterly bond, or something unique to their breed? A sudden thought shot through Twilight’s mind: Where were the other Alicorns? Knowing the general tale behind the creation of the Alicorn of Love, Twilight knew that there was no real connection to wherever Queens Celestia and Selena came from. Who was their father? their mother? Did they have any other siblings? And if they did, what happened to them…?
“It seems that an old foe of mine and Selena’s − one whom we’d formerly hoped to have thwarted forever − has returned.”
“Wait, what? An old foe? It wasn’t the Relict Windigo, was it?”
Queen Celestia shook her head.
“If it was that abomination, it is likely that life would have been wiped from this continent by now. No, the Relict Windigo remains entrapped in the amber of Concordia Arbos, in the very deepest cell of Tartarus. The foe I speak of is one who would rather play with his food before eating it.”
Queen Selena nodded, shifting her gaze to the nearest stained-glass window, the one which Rarity stood under.
‘Our age-old foe: Discord.’
The alabaster Unicorn looked up to it, as did her companions. Twilight gasped slightly; it was the same stained-glass image which had captivated her when she and Zecora had passed through nigh on a month ago. It was the horrific image of a creature uncannily akin to the statue representing discord in the Canterlot Sculpture Garden, holding a pony of each race at the end of puppet strings over a flaming pit. Once more did Twilight Sparkle feel a chill down her spine at how disturbingly realistic the ponies were portrayed with their distended screaming mouths and their twisted limbs. But perhaps more disturbing was the expression on the beast’s − on Discord’s − face: one of twisted diabolical glee, eyes staring widely down at his pony prey.
“Before the founding of the Equestrian Duumvirate,” Queen Celestia explained, “Discord reigned over Equestria − the world of Harmonia − everything beneath the Firmament − in an eternal state of unrest and unhappiness. Selena and I were born into this miserable world under his iron hoof, and we have no recollection of how much time had passed between our births and when Discord had arrived from the Far Beyond.”
“And… how is he connected to cotton-candy clouds?” Rarity ventured.
“Discord is the spirit of disharmony and chaos, of things not behaving in ways they were meant to behave, or being where they should be. The seas were as roiling wine, driving the world to madness as the fumes swept inland on outward-bound winds. Mountains of sugar-lumps rose up from the sky, crushing entire swathes of civilized land. Ohh, it was a time of misery.”
Selena continued, ‘But let it be known that Celestia and I did not suffer his reign to continue. We sisters and our olden companions did forge the Elements of Harmony and subsequently assail the draconequus despot, turning him into stone.’
Rainbow Dash put a hoof in the air triumphantly.
“Alright, Queens! You rock!”
Queen Selena tilted her head bemusedly, ‘Thy modern terminology still confuseth thy Queen, Rainbow Dash. Prithee explainest to Selena one day how one dost “rock”.’
“With any hope,” Queen Celestia cut in, “that day will pass swiftly. For Discord has broken free from his encasement in the Sculpture Garden, and seeks to bring his archaic reign of anarchy upon all of Creation once more.”
“Hey look, guys!” Pinkie Pie interrupted, pointing at a stained-glass window directly to the east − to the left − of the dual thrones. “We’re famous!”
Squinting down the hall at the stained-glass in an effort to humor the pink Earth Pony, Twilight felt her heart skip a beat at the sight: It was an artistic depiction of herself and her five fellow Bearers, each wearing their respective Element of Harmony, with beams of light connecting them to a cowering NightMare Moon.
“Your return of my sister was a momentous occasion in the history of Equestria,” Queen Celestia said softly, “but not solely in the manner of your utilization of the Elements of Harmony to purge my sister of NightMare Moon. You six have demonstrated a greater resonance with each respective Element far more than their former Bearers… which ends a process that had begun with Selena’s banishment a meggrossium ago.”
“What do you mean?” asked Paper.
“I mean that the moment that I turned the Elements upon one of their two core makers, their connection to the original Bearers weakened severely. I can only suppose this is why NightMare Moon was merely banished to the Moon with my little sister, rather than being expunged entirely. Ever since then, I’ve been feeling the seal upon Discord weakening as my own tether to the Elements waned. Now, I fear, the ability to wield the Elements has passed from Selena and I; I could no more wield them than command them to dance.”
“Oooh, could I command the Element of Laughter to dance?” Pinkie Pie interjected. “‘Cause that’d be so fun~!”
Knowing you, Pinkie Pie, it’s entirely possible, Twilight thought.
‘What my sister is trying to tell ye,’ Selena said as she stepped forth, ‘is that it is no more upon Celestia and I where the duty to rein in Discord falls. The only ones who can defeat him… are you six, the present Bearers of the Elements.’
“But without the Elements, what can we do?” Twilight asked plaintively.
Queen Celestia hung her head, ears drooping.
“I know not, my most faithful student. I had hoped that we could strike while Discord was still weak from his recently regained freedom, but he anticipated my move. I was clever enough to outmaneuver NightMare Moon, but not enough to outflank Him?”
“Oh, chin up, dear little sunshine,” said Discord, running a claw up Celestia’s chin. “It does little to brighten my day seeing you so dim.”
Everypony gave a start. Twilight and her band leapt back in alarm, shrieking, Fluttershy covering her face with her wings, Spike cowering behind his mother’s cannons.
The draconequus looked alarmingly different from either his stained-glass depiction or the stony effigy of his prison. Stripped away were his fur and scales and flesh, leaving behind merely a muscled skeleton. Empty eye-sockets marked only by the muscles for eyebrows offered no insight as to where − or even how − this master of chaos turned his gaze.
“Discord?” Celestia cried, her wings unfurling and her alicorn shining fierce. “How long have you been here?”
“Hmm…” Discord fingered at his chin with a bony claw. “Yes, that is true. But… if you really want to nitpick, I suppose you could say I’ve been here since the chapter was posted.”
“Wow, really? Where were you hiding?” Pinkie Pie asked, curiosity overcoming the fear of the herd. “Where was it exactly?”
“Why, in the cipher at the end of the chapter,” replied Discord, his tone of voice indicating his joy where his rictus grin could not. “And the code is DISHARMONY to all of you diligent readers out there! We’re making this one easy for you~!”
Pinkie Pie giggled, “I like this guy!”
“Same here, random pink pony!” Discord laughed. “You’d make a good right-hoof mare!”
‘Pinkamena Diane Pie, withdraw thyself from that beast!’ Selena cried, carrying herself up to the vaulted ceiling. ‘He is a villain and a murderer!’
“Ohh, I see that you’ve brought your little sister back from time-out on the Moon,” Discord said cheerily to Celestia. “Though if you’d like me to be frank, I’m surprised your baby sister changed her mind because you used your orbital friendship cannon.”
‘Stay thy tongue, thou whey-faced churl! The times have been far kinder to myself than to thee, I see!’
Discord looked at both skeletal forelimbs − lion’s paw and eagle’s claw − and sneered, “Oh yes, well, I would have liked to appear in my Sunday best, but somepony had turned me into stone for two-and-a-half-dozen-score years! Being in that state has truly been murderous to my complexion…!”
“Enough of the prattle, Discord!” Celestia flared, her mane and tail actually gleaming a sunny yellow for an instant. “Where are the Elements of Harmony?”
“The what?” asked Discord, head tilting confusedly (his spine cracking horrendously at the movement). “Ohh-hoho, you mean those little baubles? Well, I knew that as soon as I’d left the time-out corner you’d so ungraciously dumped me in, you’d gather up your little lapdogs to stone me for you. So… I decided to borrow them. You know, just so that you can don’t unduly imprison me before knowing that I am ready to be reformed.”
“What? ‘Reformed’?” Twilight echoed.
Discord’s head spun about to face the band of Bearers, his neck making even louder cricking noises as he did so.
“Well well well, if it isn’t the new Bearers of Harmony,” he said, stepping backwards so that he could still face them. “You must be Twilight Sparkle, the Bearer of that most elusive of all the Elements − Magic. Quite the little bookworm, you are, aren’t you?”
“Hey! You lay off of her!” Rainbow Dash cut in. “Only I’m allowed to call her a bookworm!”
“Thanks, Rainbow Dash… I guess,” said Twilight.
“And you must be Rainbow Dash, famed for her honesty − the Element you represent. You never really learned how to keep a lid on it, have you?”
“I’ll teach you how to keep a lid on it!” snarled Rainbow, bringing a hoof back.
“Rainbow Dash, wait!”
If Twilight hadn’t seen it come out of Fluttershy’s mouth, she would not have believed it. Fluttershy, advocating that Rainbow Dash hold back from a known enemy?
“Flutters, what the hay? You’re killing my moment here!”
“Come on now, Rainbow Dash. I know he looks more than a little frightening.” Indeed, the butter-yellow Pegasus was keen on avoiding glancing at the towering skeletal figure. “But… I mean, look at Queen Selena. She looks pretty scary, too. But we can trust her. And… well, Discord hasn’t done anything mean to us, so…” She smiled at Discord, clearly trying to focus her eyes somewhere past him. “I think that he can be a better person if he really tries.”
Discord’s body spun around beneath his head, wholly facing the Bearers now.
“And so, you are Fluttershy, Bearer of Kindness. Such a sweet soul, though prone to naïveté.”
Queen Celestia flashed into the space between Discord and Fluttershy, leveling a fierce gaze upon the draconequus.
“I will not let you sway the Bearers, fiend! You have wrought too much ruin upon the world as it is! Your reign of terror will not―!”
“Up-upupupup,” Discord placed a bony finger on Celestia’s lips. “Pipe down while Daddy’s talking, sunbeam, or you’re going into time-out next.”
Celestia’s brows creased.
“Your Majesty…” Twilight’s voice was like a beam of serenity into Celestia’s heart, and she felt the power and rage burning in her heart began to cool as she turned her gaze down to the lavender Unicorn.
“Your Majesty,” Twilight said again, “I don’t know all of the details of the Age Of Discord, but… two and a half meggrossiums is a very long time. Don’t you think that, perhaps, Discord is being sincere with his plea of reformation?”
“Well, I really wouldn’t say I’m reformed, per se,” interjected Discord, “but if I was given just a small, tiny, teensy-weensy chance and not be forced to ‘taste the rainbow’ as soon as waking up…”
“But Twilight, don’t you know about the timeless age of misery…?”
“I do know, Your Majesty, but… Your own sister was wrapped up in her rage for a dozen-gross years, with nopony but her own thoughts, and the Miasma’s. In the grand scheme of things, it didn’t take long at all for her to return to her senses after she and the Miasma came free.” Twilight offered the draconequus a hopeful smile. “Maybe Discord is the same way.”
“But…” Celestia turned a frightful gaze to Discord. “You don’t know him, Twilight…”
“No I don’t. But I’d like to give him a chance, get to know him myself.”
Celestia teared up, looking down on Twilight with a mortified expression as if Twilight had lost her horn.
“Well, this is unprecedented,” Discord contemplated. “A student defying her teacher. Who’d have thought it?”
He snapped his eagle’s claw, and in a flash of bright − but somehow not blinding − light, the draconequus Discord appeared as he should have with flesh and fur and scales. His feathered blue wing and his scaly bat-wing flexed on his back, his tan hoofed leg held up in a limber stance by both paw and claw.
“Ahh, that’s much better. I’m practically feeling reformed already.”
Red irises set in yellow sclera settled on Celestia.
“See that, sun-flare? You get more flies with honey than with vinegar~”
Celestia looked dumbstruck, her jaw slack as she watched Discord stride off to meet with the Bearers of the lost Elements. Selena flapped to her sister’s side.
‘Sister, dost thou believeth this course to be wise?’
Celestia looked to Selena.
“I have no idea, little sister. We both know the depths of his depravity and how far he falls from a decent person, but Twilight Sparkle’s judgment seems sound, and we have no idea where Discord has hidden the Elements anyway, so…” She set her eyes upon Discord, who had started to dance on Twilight’s head without causing her to cave into the ground. “We keep an eye on him, and expand our patrols. Search for the magical signature of the Elements.” She looked down to Paper Mache. “Can you do this for me, Paper?”
“I’ll get right on it, Queen Celestia!” she said, snapping to a salute before galloping out the double-doors.
“Whoo-hoo~!” Pinkie Pie rose to her hind legs and began to perform a strange dance that she had to have made up herself. “Shake it, Dizzy! Boogie down!”
“I can see why you’re the Element of Laughter, Pinkie Pie!” Discord chortled. “You’re a real hoot!”
“…Please get this freak off of my head,” Twilight grumbled.
Selena narrowed cyan eyes at the dancing draconequus.
‘His power is still weak from his imprisonment, but it will restore itself quickly,’ she said softly so that only her sister could hear. ‘We must not let him leave Canterlot.’
What was that? mused a voice in her head. ‘Leave Canterlot’? Don’t mind if I do!
And in a split-second, faster than either Alicorn could react, Discord stopped mid-twerk and snapped his fingers, he and his seven companions vanishing in a flash.
“We can only pray that Twilight knows how to rein in Discord without the Elements.”
Selena smiled at her glowing sister.
‘She hath brought thine younger sister back. Surely she can manage such a feat.’
Celestia looked back to the stained-glass depiction of Discord’s reign, focusing on the equine leg where his lion’s paw was now…
“I hope you’re right, little sister.”
“Oh my goodness!” cried Roseluck, pointing down the road past the Gazebo. “Twilight and her friends have brought a terrifying monster into town!”
Lily and Daisy cried out as well.
“The horror, the horror!” screamed Lily.
“It’s the end of Ponyville as we know it!” shouted Daisy.
And the three of them bolted into their home.
Applejack quirked an eyebrow at the display.
“Well… if th’ Flower Triplets ‘re gunna react so strongly ta Discord showin’ up, he really mus’ be on th’ level.”
Discord cocked a shaggy white eyebrow. “Really? They always react so strongly to an upset in the balance? Interesting. I’m going to enjoy my stay here in Ponyville after all…”
“Do try not to cause them too much strife if you must,” Rarity said shortly, eyeing Discord suspectly. “We’d rather not have to deal with the disruption.”
The draconequus heaved a sigh, scratching at his black mane.
“Very well, if I must.”
And with a snap of his fingers, the road beneath them turned into soap, bubbles drifting in the air. Discord’s six pony attendants came to a slippery halt, Rainbow Dash instinctively taking flight. Pinkie Pie completely lost her footing, comically sliding onto her face.
Discord began to slide on the soap, veritably skating on his hind legs, biting his bottom lip in an obvious attempt at curtailing a laugh.
“You should see how silly you all look right now!” he chuckled.
“Yes, we look positively droll, I imagine,” groaned Rarity.
“This… doesn’t even make any sense,” moaned Twilight.
Discord shook his head ruefully, “‘Make sense’? Ohh, what fun is there in making sense? Once you learn to see things my way, you’ll see that things tend to be a bit more flexible.”
As if to demonstrate, Discord’s extremities all swapped positions with each other, his horned gray head where his lion’s paw was, his eagle claw where his head should have been, his feathered wing where his eagle’s claw was, a hooved leg sticking from his back next to his lion paw, his amaranth tail where his dragon leg was, his bat-wing where his tail used to be…
“Ooooh, neat~!” gasped Pinkie Pie. “You’ve got some real talent with your magic!”
Discord covered his mouth with a paw in a mock yawn.
“You think that this is talent? I haven’t even shown my biggest tricks yet… I just need a bit of time for my power to restore itself after… well, I’m sure you heard back in their throne room. Or, should I perhaps call it their ‘overthrown room’!” he finished with an acid tone. His eyes widened in realization, and in a snap his physique had returned to normal. He cleared his throat.
“Right. Well then… First one into town is a fresh egg!”
And so Discord began to skate down his own soapy road, for all intents and purposes appearing to skate forwards while actually moving backwards, his dark-brown body receding into the village streets and out of sight.
Applejack faced Twilight with a concerned expression.
“Sugarcube, are ya sure it’s a bright move ta trust a feller goin’ on the way he does?”
“The way I see it, especially because of the way he acts,” Twilight said in what she assumed was a reasonable tone. “Without the Elements, we need to find an alternative solution to disarming him. And logically speaking, what better way to negate whatever threat his power shows than to make sure that he turns good?”
Rarity rubbed her right-front fetlock against her chin. “Be that as it may, darling, you do recall that his reign lasted for an indeterminate number of years? Claims of reformation or not, I feel that we should take Queen Celestia’s trepidation into consideration. She did experience Discord’s reign first-hoof, after all.”
“Yeah, but wasn’t that, like, a baggrossium years ago or something?” Rainbow Dash asked.
“A ‘baggrossium’ isn’t a real number, Rainbow Dash,” Twilight said instinctively.
“Whatever. But wouldn’t it just look worse to her because of how long ago it was?”
“I suppose,” Twilight conceded. “As it is, I have read a number of books regarding the so-called ‘Age of Discord’, which I suppose is not such an abstract descriptor for that era after all. However, many of them were based off of hearsay, or the accounts of mad ponies. By all accounts, those books were most likely unreliable; I have no idea how they stayed in print for so long.”
“Who cares if it’s probably a bunch of made-up malarkey?” Spike asked. “It’s probably because some ponies find that kinda stuff interesting.”
A thought occurred to the lavender Unicorn.
“Wait a second. Rainbow Dash, you bear the Element of Honesty. Does Discord seem like he’s being forthright with us?”
“I… I don’t know.” Rainbow Dash, for the first time since Twilight had known her, looked uncertain. “I can always tell whenever somepony’s being a liar, ‘cause it’s not cool to brag about something that’s not real. But… when I hear that guy talking… I just can’t tell. Even if I know if it’s true, just the way he talks about it…”
Fluttershy gave a squeak and attempted to hide behind Rarity, a feat made altogether more difficult by the slippery road that she now strode on. From behind one of the thinnest branches of the nearest tree popped out Discord, breaking logic in two across his knee.
“Was somepony talking about me?” he asked inquisitively, without a shred of malice or threat behind his tone.
“What gave ya that idea?” Applejack replied.
“My ears were burning,” Discord answered, and sure enough his ears were indeed on fire.
Twilight sighed; truth be told, she could do without the visual puns.
As could be expected, the atmosphere in Ponyville grew altogether more tense as the passersby caught sight of Discord. The Flower Triplets had raised such a din over the years that only the youngest of Ponyvillagers took their outbursts seriously. However, with the descending clumps of sticky cotton-candy from the sky and the roads gradually turning into soap while the slender draconic being gaily skated about on hoof and claw, they began to feel a slight foreboding creep into their chests.
‘Oh dear dear dearie-me,’ mused Mary Smith-Noir, the light-blue Unicorn mare placing a cloven hoof on her muzzle. ‘This seems mildly unsettling.’
“Ahh, do lighten up, ma chérie,” remarked her wife Pinot Noir, suggestively bumping her rump against Mary’s, prompting a blush. “Per’aps you need a glass of my latest brew, take some of ze tension off… and perhaps a chaser?” She winked slyly.
“Mother, Maman, who’s that dragon guy?” asked Mornen Noir, their rosy Unicorn daughter.
‘I… well, I don’t quite know, dearest,’ Mary remarked hastily, Pinot’s tail wrapping around her back and prompting her face to flush a more furious shade of red. ‘I have never seen a creature like that before, but I… I think that it might be a draconequus.’
“Wow…” Mornen’s lime-green eyes widened in wonder.
“Mmmm…” Pinot nuzzled her head into the crook of Mary’s neck, inhaling deeply, her cutie mark rubbing against her wife’s. Mary began to sweat profusely; Pinot was getting altogether too amorous in front of their daughter.
‘Pinot, w-would you kindly stop rubbing your b-b-beautiful bum against me?’
Discord did a pirouette of sorts and landed on a single digit of his lion paw, a singular bar of soap appearing where he touched down.
“My goodness does it feel good to be free again!”
Discord stretched out his eagle claw and legs as if to work out any soreness or tiredness, snapping his fingers and producing sparks. Immediately Pinot began to convulse, her nostrils flaring as she drew back from her wife with a grimace on her face.
“Discord!” snapped Applejack. “What did ya jus’ do ta Miss Noir?”
“Who, me?” Discord replied innocently, a halo actually appearing over his head. “I was just stretching. A stone body-suit is not my go-to fashion choice, after all!”
Pinot Noir sneezed, a comical blubbering noise…
And her house behind her and her little family fell backwards from the trio, as flat as a pancake.
Discord laughed uproariously.
“I’ve been waiting to do that for a very long time!” he wheezed between chortles.
“If you’re looking to seek reformation,” hissed Rarity, “you’re not presenting a very good figure for the denizens of Ponyville.”
“‘Pony-ville’?” echoed Discord, biting his lip. “Well, that certainly fits for a village full of Ponies. I daresay that there are probably a veritable menagerie of locales throughout Equestria called Ponyville by this age. Goodness knows, looking about the decor of this place, ponykind has gotten into a bit of a rut since my reign.”
“Oh no no no no no,” Twilight cut in nervously, wearing a hesitant smile. “Equestria has really flourished in the past two-and-a-half-megagross years. We have a counting system that is consistent across the three pony races now, we have a wide variety of transit systems to get ponies from one side of Vespucca to the other with all due speed, our technology is far more advanced than it’s ever been… Really, things are perfectly fine as they are!”
“Are you sure?” Discord asked, who’d been idly fiddling with his goatee. “That’s not how I see it… I mean, really, doing the same thing over and over again, and receiving the same result? It seems so… boring.”
Twilight’s ears folded back. She did not doubt the threat that Discord potentially showed despite his whimsy and carefree demeanor. Despite the fact that Queen Celestia’s word was not printed in a book, she gave careful consideration to the options laid before them, as few as they were, and chose the choice most apropos.
But now, with a growing dark look on Discord’s face…
The draconequus’s jaws split open in an uproarious guffaw.
“Oh-hoho, you should see the look on your face, it’s priceless! Did you − You really thought I was gonna turn Ponyville inside-out and upside-down? Oh-hohoho, you really are that little sunbeam’s adorable little gofer.” Twilight grimaced as Discord pinched her cheek with his eagle claw.
“Be that as it may, turn the Noir house back to what it once was,” Twilight snapped.
“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” answered the draconequus.
“And why not, or are ya too big ta tell us?” cut in Applejack.
Discord’s expression grew rather cross.
“Because I spent all of that time inside of a beautiful stone statue of myself, my control of my chaotic powers has been rather…”
His eagle claw flew up and snapped, seemingly involuntarily. As Discord looked at his own claw in surprise, a chorus of splat!s made their way about the streets of Ponyville. Looking about, Twilight realized that it was presently hailing pancakes, complete with maple syrup and butter by the looks of it. As the syrup and the melted butter began to splatter from the fallen hotcakes, the Ponyvillagers spending a seasonable autumn day outdoors suddenly found themselves seeking shelter in the nearest home (the Noir family ended up bolting towards the home of the Flower Triplets, banging fruitlessly at the door).
Discord smiled sheepishly. “Oops.”
Twilight groaned, placing a hoof on her face.
“Hey! Here’s an idea!” Rainbow Dash said brightly. “Why don’t we all go someplace near Ponyville where Discord’s magic can’t do bad by anyone?”
“And where in th’ name a’ Ponyville would that be?” Applejack asked with a raised eyebrow.
Rainbow Dash smirked.
“The reservoir…” Twilight mused aloud. “I must admit, Rainbow Dash, this is quite the handy spot. Nice, secluded… we should all take a picnic out here someday!”
To her surprise, Rainbow Dash groaned in dread. Twilight frowned.
“Is there something wrong with that idea?”
“Well no, not really,” Rainbow said with a shrug. “…Unless it’s gonna be rigidly scheduled just like your slumber-parties!”
“Hey! I’ll have you know that I like to perform things by-the-book! Checklists are important to ensure that optimal levels of fun have been achieved, in order for a slumber-party to fit within the official perimeters.”
Rainbow growled, “Do you have any idea how stupid that sounds? It’s a slumber-party; anything can happen there! Truths can be told; dares can be dealt; bottles can be spun!”
“Bottles?” Spike interjected. “What about bottles at sleep-overs?”
“Nothing, Spike!” Twilight answered nervously, too quickly. “Nothing at all! There’s… nothing in Slumber 101 about any games called Spin-The-Bottle!”
“You gotta kiss the one the bottle points at,” Rainbow Dash hissed over Twilight’s shoulder, earning a sharp glare from the latter.
Spike gasped deeply, his claws flying to his cheeks.
“I love this game! I’m gonna ask Rarity if she wants to play!”
“That… won’t really be necessary, Spike,” Twilight cut in, stepping in front of the mulberry drake’s beeline towards Rarity. She hoped that she looked reasonable and reassuring, and not at all nervous and terrified at the notion of her little baby getting his first kiss so soon.
Then again, came an idle voice inside her head, Rarity would probably not be a bad first kiss for him…
Twilight shook her head internally.
No! Twilight, du Schwachkopf! Spike is still a baby, and Rarity’s a full-grown mare! Don’t enable him, or he’ll think that this crush is something deeper!
“Actually, now that I think about it,” Twilight said, coming upon an idea, “Spin-The-Bottle can also be used as a means of playing the game Truth-Or-Dare. Who knows what you could catch by kissing somepony. Cooties, maybe…”
“‘Cooties’?” Spike cried in alarm. “I don’t want cooties! They’d scuttle under my scales and nibble away underneath them…!”
Twilight smiled softly, “Then you just wait a few years until you’ve developed immunity to cooties, and then you can find your first kiss. I want you to be safe, Mein geliebter Drache.” She nuzzled against the crown of Spike’s head, the mulberry drake smiling in turn. “Now, if you like, I’d like a private word with Rainbow Dash, so… could you give us some space?”
“Whatever you say, Mom,” Spike said, scampering off to join the others by the reservoir.
Twilight rounded on the cerulean Pegasus. “If you’d be so considerate, I would like it if you didn’t go over my head regarding my son!”
“Hey, he wanted to know the game, and isn’t knowing half the battle or something?”
“It’s a good thing that Spin-The-Bottle is more than just a kiss-a-random-pony game, or that would have been an altogether more awkward save. I don’t want my little boy to be playing a game that’s all about kissing random ponies over and over; he’s too young for something like that!”
“He’s a dozen years old, Twilight.”
“That’s still a baby in Dragon years!”
“Maybe, but let the little guy have a bit of fun.”
“And that’s why I’m going to add Truth-Or-Dare Spin-The-Bottle to the itinerary of our next slumber-party.”
“Again with the schedules and the itineraries and the checklists, Purple-Smart! Not everything needs to be so written out and pre-planned! You’ve gotta be spontaneous sometimes!”
“Spontaneity is the enemy of Harmony! If somepony starts to act spontaneously too much, then we run the risk of falling down a great slippery slope of everypony just doing what they like when they like to do it. And if that were to happen, that would lead to the downfall of this great civilization that the Queens built for us! I won’t let myself become the harbinger of the downfall of Equestria just because I feel like abandoning my checklists!”
“The whole world won’t end because you decide to do something unplanned just once! This is getting ridiculous, Twilight! You’ve gotta loosen up and go with the flow!”
Twilight would have replied with a sharp retort, but she suddenly felt as though every bone in her body had disappeared. A great sinking feeling happened all about her, and before she knew it her alicorn flopped uselessly between her eyes as they sunk back into her head, her legs giving out beneath her and Rainbow Dash looking down at her in horror.
“Whoops! Sorry, Dusk Twinkle! My fingers slipped~!” called Discord from the side of the reservoir.
Twilight tried to mouth off to Discord in Germane, but without a jawbone connected to her mouth muscles all that came out was a faint gurgling sound. This was a horrendous feeling, worse than anything than Twilight had ever felt in her life. Her eyes rolled lifelessly up towards the sky, falling upon the Sun, her heart beating against her liver…
And suddenly she was standing upright again, coughing horridly.
“Oh, I guess that was just a temporary skeletal displacement spell,” mused Discord, now floating over Twilight and Rainbow. “That could’ve been so bad… for you. Welp, in any case, care to join us all down at the reservoir?”
Twilight flexed her legs, her elbows, her fetlocks, her leonine tail, just to see if even a single bone had fallen out of place. Feeling suddenly exhausted at having been deboned for so many seconds, Twilight could only blearily nod. Giggling gleefully, Discord disappeared in a flash down to the reservoir, suddenly wearing a one-piece swimsuit.
“Uhh… Wanna take it slow, TS?” Rainbow offered nervously.
Twilight nodded again, offering an assenting moan. Her speech seemed to be deprived at the moment.
Rainbow alighted beside Twilight and the pair of them began a walk down to the reservoir, the latter staggering slightly as she became reaccustomed to having bones.
If there was one bright side to this, it was that the limp in her left foreleg had vanished.
“So, umm, Discord?” asked Fluttershy.
“Umm… What sort of things could you do with your powers when you were… well, at full strength?”
Discord scratched his chin in thought.
“Well, that’s a tough question. Really, I suppose the real question is what I couldn’t do at my peak. Magic was all mine to command, and with it, all of reality.” He leveled red eyes upon the butter-yellow Pegasus, grinning a grin full of fangs. “I was able to do as I pleased with you little ponies as my playthings, what you were made for, and now…”
Discord snapped his fingers. Nothing happened. Five times more he snapped them, each with the same result. He sighed.
“The same reaction to the same action… Such a quaint notion.”
In spite of her recent victimization at the hooves of Discord’s chaotic magic, Twilight could not help but to sympathize with him. Losing her magic, as uncontrollable as her mana was in her youth, would be the worst thing to ever happen to her. She knew stories about Unicorns who had lost their horns and therefore their ability to use magic, and the effects that this had had on their lifestyle. Twilight prided herself on two things: Being well-read, and being a magical prodigy. To be so robbed of your power when you knew that you had such a great potential must have been the worst feeling ever. To be so impotent, like a composer gone deaf…
“I’m sorry to hear that, Discord,” Twilight mused, her voice scratchy but serviceable. “If only there was something one of us could do…”
To her surprise, Discord grinned broadly, and she did not like the look of it at all.
“Oh, I daresay that all you lovely little ponies are going to be doing quite a lot for me in the future…”
Twilight’s ears perked up at the sound of very familiar hooting. Looking off towards Ponyville, she caught wind of her Owlowiscious flapping towards her with all due speed. The tawny ball of feathers nearly collided with her face, the owl still hooting up a storm.
“Owlowiscious!” Twilight shouted. “What in Ponyville has gotten into you?”
The owl perched on Twilight’s horn, pointing with a wing at the distant Ponyville…
Only Ponyville was unrecognizable with half of its buildings floating about in the air at angles that one would expect in a surrealist painting. Cotton-candy clouds dotted the sky over the hamlet, pancakes and syrup and butter still falling upon it, only now it was joined by what looked to be a rain of spiders as large as ponies.
Twilight’s jaw dropped, horrified. How in the world did this happen…?
She almost didn’t register Discord’s laughter.
“Oh-hohohohoho, isn’t this such a blast? Look at all the delightful chaos being sewn down in Ponyville! I knew that I could do all kinds of crazy things there from wherever I wanted, but it’s just so much more delicious to think that…” Discord covered his muzzle with both paw and claw, trying to restrain even greater fits of laughter. “…to think that you believed that my powers were affected at ALL…!”
“You lied to me? To us?” gasped Fluttershy, tears at the corners of her eyes.
“I know!” Discord laughed uproariously, rolling about on the ground with both arms on his belly. “Wasn’t it just splendid? To think you actually believed me… Oh-hohoho, it’s too rich!”
And the remainder of Discord’s statements were lost in insane laughter.
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